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In Conversation With Christopher Samuel carroll

"...watching cat videos, followed by drone footage of air-strikes, followed by more cat videos... It's basically about that massive headf***. I think it's very relatable. Either that, or I'm more disturbed by it all than most." We catch up with director, actor and playwright Christoper Samuel Carroll about his play 'I have no Enemies' coming to Melbourne at theatre works 10-20 April.

Q: What drew you to the cyber world and the desire to put it on stage?

A: To be completely honest,  it freaks me the hell out. So part of this perverse desire to dive into it is about confronting those feelings of ignorance, discomfort and overwhelm, and exploring what this digital hellscape in which we all now live is doing to us. I'm 38, which means I will be of the last generation who remembers a time before the Internet. And because so much of culture, so much of the way we orient ourselves, is now mediated by the digital space, it can be damn near impossible to step back and think critically about it.

Which is why I feel such affection for the naivity of 90s Hollywood movies, which still saw the Internet as this 'other' entity, full of unknown potential: strange, cool, and threatening, like a sub-culture should be. I Have No Enemies draws on that cyberpunk aesthetic, and the laughable, but eerily prescient perspective of those obsolete cultural artefacts, to try to tell a story about the technically-sophisticated, but disappointingly bland dystopia we live in today.

Q: Sticking with the theme of online spaces, if I Have No Enemies were a Facebook Marketplace advertisement what would it be selling?

A: A distressing number of big, bulky filing cabinets — like, for actual FILES, kids.

Are they useful? No. Are they aesthetically-pleasing? Again, most definitely no.

But do they give a vibe of off-grid underground hide-out for an increasingly radicalised group of theatre-makers/hackers/domestic terrorists? Can you store a helluva lotta single-use props to serve the incredible number of dumb gags you've come up with in order to make a show about surveillance far more entertaining that it has any right to be? Are they free, abundant, and do they make a cool big metal ka-chunk! when you slam them shut? My facebook friends, indeed they do. And that is why, despite the amount of space they take up in my shed between tours, they make up the bulk (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word) of the set for I Have No Enemies. I fucking love them.

Q: What themes does I Have No Enemies explore?

A: Using Theatre, an essentially irrelevant, analogue platform, to scream into the void about the inevitable digitisation of our lives... well, the irony isn't lost on us, lemme tell ya. But I think the one thing that Theatre does so well is the way it reflects the human experience: to make space for us to come together and feel our way through how a thing feels.

So while the main themes of the show are surveillance, data collection and identity in an increasingly digital world, it's really about the effect that all of that has on us: the dissonance of being at once so connected, and feeling so alone; the apparent democratisation of media, on platforms controlled by a handful of all-powerful super-corporations; having access to a global forum for debate and discussion that instead of uniting us, has polarised society; watching cat videos, followed by drone footage of air-strikes, followed by more cat videos... It's basically about that massive headfuck. I think it's very relatable. Either that, or I'm more disturbed by it all than most.

Q: What has been a highlight about the development and rehearsal process so far?

A: Coming back to it, and feeling like we're making it better each time. It's a devised piece, so each of the performers have contributed creatively to the material. We did some initial development for the project in April 2021, then were supposed to stage the show in 2022, only for three of the four of us to come down with covid. We eventually put it on in March 2023, in our home-base of Canberra, and now we're about to unleash it on Melbourne audiences. Taking the time to research subjects which I'm passionately curious about, to work intensely and collaboratively in the studio, then come back to the material with fresh eyes to go at it again, has been very satisfying.

Don't get me wrong, there are some shows I've made in the past that I would completely disown now — so it's a really good feeling to come back to this one, and feel reassured that there's something really good in it. It feels like each time we return to it, the show, and our relationship as an ensemble, takes another big leap forward.

I'm especially proud of how many dumb jokes that we came up with in early developments just to make one another laugh have ended up becoming essential plot points.

Q: What do you hope people talk about on their way home from seeing I Have No Enemies?

A: I hope they bounce out of the theatre laughing, gobsmacked and delightedly babbling about what the hell they've just seen: talking animatedly about all the fantastic, surprising, crazy moments in a show that is pretty damn entertaining. Then, in the gloaming of a restless night, I hope that my voice, and my voice alone, comes back to haunt their dreams and sour the milk of their contentment.

If they wake the next day with a different awareness of how they engage with their phones, or a renewed appreciation for the 1995 cult-classic Hackers starring Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, I'll consider it a job well done.


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